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house Bill H. Res. 497

Should Attorney General Barr & Commerce Secretary Ross Be Held in Contempt for Refusing to Comply With Subpoenas for Census Documents?

Argument in favor

Attorney General William Barr & Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross have refused to comply with legally valid subpoenas issued by the House Oversight Committee related to the 2020 Census. They should be held in contempt and House leadership to pursue enforcement of those subpoenas in federal court.

burrkitty's Opinion
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07/17/2019
Obviously, they are in contempt. Congress has the power to compel testimony from hostile witnesses. You can’t defy subpoenas. End of story.
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jimK's Opinion
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07/17/2019
Yes. They should be held in contempt and fined. Barr should be impeached and Ross should be removed from office. Barr, in particular, needs to be made an example of. He is not and should never be the Presidents personal attorney in these matters. I hope there is a way to find his actions to be outright criminal. He should never be able to just block a legal congressional inquiry. He is violating the Constitution in so doing and he definitely needs to be made an example of.
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Nancy's Opinion
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07/17/2019
The Attorney General is supposed to represent the People, not to protect the President. And law enforcement must have standards too.
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Argument opposed

This is nothing more than an attempt by Democrats to score political points. It wastes valuable floor time in the House of Representatives, and precious taxpayer dollars by pursuing what will be a lengthy battle in federal court where an outcome in favor of the House is far from certain.

Cherie65's Opinion
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07/17/2019
I'm telling you, the democrats are a laughing stock. So busy trying to play 'gotcha' they are ignoring the people's business. We see it, we know the game, we will vote you out. #Trump2020
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Stephen's Opinion
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07/17/2019
More nonsense from Congress to score political points. Would you PLEASE do your job like I do everyday!
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Mark's Opinion
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07/17/2019
Go ahead Democrats. Keep it up with your vicious agenda that benefits only the elitists inside the DC beltway and their wealthy donors. You care nothing for the people and in particular American citizens. No matter party affiliation, race, gender, religion, ethnicity, origin or any other label you want to attach to us. You are all about power grabs and the majority see it as clear as day. Please keep doing what you’re doing. You’re making our job to defeat you in 2020 even easier.
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simple resolution Progress


  • The house Passed July 17th, 2019
    Roll Call Vote 230 Yea / 198 Nay
    IntroducedJuly 17th, 2019

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What is House Bill H. Res. 497?

This resolution would hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for failing to produce documents related to the decision to attempt to add the citizenship question to the 2020 Census requested in subpoenas issued by the House Oversight Committee, which the Trump administration asserted executive privilege over. It would also allow House leadership to pursue the enforcement of those subpoenas in federal court and criminally refer Barr & Ross to the Justice Dept. for their intransigence (although the DOJ historically declines to prosecute criminal contempt referrals).

As a simple resolution, this legislation wouldn’t advance beyond the House if adopted.

Impact

Attorney General Barr & Commerce Secretary Ross; the Justice Dept. & Commerce Dept.; and the House of Representatives.

Cost of House Bill H. Res. 497

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-Depth: House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) introduced this bill to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for refusing to comply with subpoenas issued by the House Oversight Committee:

“For months, Attorney General Barr and Secretary Ross have withheld key documents subpoenaed by the Committee on a bipartisan basis without asserting any valid legal justification for their refusal. These documents could shed light on the real reason that the Trump Administration tried to add the citizenship question. Unfortunately, the Administration is stonewalling our investigation and obstructing our efforts to get the information we need to do our jobs. We should not be forced to take these extreme actions to get the documents and information we need to conduct a thorough investigation. I urge Attorney General Barr and Secretary Ross to change course and produce the documents we have subpoenaed on a bipartisan basis so the House is not forced to hold them in contempt of Congress.”

After the U.S. Supreme Court held that while adding a citizenship question to the Census could be legally justified, the Trump administration failed to provide a coherent rationale, House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-OH) countered:

“It should not be controversial to ask how many American citizens are in the United States of America. The only people who don’t want to know are Democrats in Congress. Democrats went to work to influence the Supreme Court’s consideration — cherry-picking facts to create misleading narratives, repeating baseless conspiracy theories, and manufacturing controversy.”

The House Oversight Committee voted to hold Barr & Ross in contempt over their failure to comply with subpoenas on a mostly party-line 24-15 vote that saw Michigan Congressman Justin Amash (then a Republican but now an Independent) join all Democrats by voting in favor.

In June 2019, the House voted 229-191 along party-lines to make it easier for committee chairs to seek enforcement of subpoenas in federal court.


Of Note: After the Trump administration’s effort to add the citizenship question to the Census stalled in the courts, the president issued an executive order for federal agencies to provide the Commerce Dept. with all available information regarding the citizenship status of people living in the U.S.

Contempt is used by the House and Senate to respond to actions viewed as obstructing the legislative and oversight process by forcing compliance, punishing the subject of contempt (aka the contemnor), or removing the obstruction. Congressional contempt power can be exercised in three ways according to the Congressional Research Service:

  • Inherent Contempt: This method draws on Congress’s constitutional authority to try and detain the contemnor until the individual complies with congressional demands. It is also functionally dormant, as it was last used in 1935.

  • Criminal Contempt: This allows Congress to punish subpoena non-compliance with a by certifying a contempt citation for the criminal prosecution of the contemnor with the DOJ, rather than serving as a mechanism for obtaining the subpoenaed material.

  • Civil Enforcement: Congress has the power to seek a civil judgment in federal court declaring that the contemnor is legally obligated to comply with the congressional subpoena.

There are several obstacles to congressional subpoena enforcement against executive branch officials through the use of criminal contempt or civil enforcement. In terms of criminal contempt, based on past practice the DOJ doesn’t prosecute contempt if executive privilege is invoked. That was the case for several contempt citations involving executive branch officials approved by the House and sent to the DOJ in recent decades:

  • EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch Burford (1982): Gorsuch was subpoenaed for documents related to the functioning of the Superfund program, which cleans and repairs environmental areas contaminated by toxic waste, during the Reagan administration.

  • Former WH Counsel Harriet Miers & WH Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten (2008): Miers was subpoenaed for documents and testimony related to the George W. Bush White House’s involvement in requesting the resignations of U.S. attorneys, while Bolten was subpoenaed for similar records.

  • Attorney General Eric Holder (2012): Holder was subpoenaed for records related to the Obama administration’s Operation Fast & Furious, under which the ATF allowed semi-automatic “assault” rifles to be sold to straw-buyers who transferred them to drug cartels. The weapons were used in numerous murders near the U.S.-Mexico border, including the 2010 killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

Additionally, while it’s possible to enforce a congressional subpoena through civil action it can take significant time to obtain a final, enforceable ruling due to the appeals process.


Media:

Summary by Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: iStock.com / MikeyLPT)

AKA

Recommending that the House of Representatives find William P. Barr, Attorney General of the United States, and Wilbur L. Ross, Jr., Secretary of Commerce, in contempt of Congress for refusal to comply with subpoenas duly issued by the Committee on Oversi

Official Title

Recommending that the House of Representatives find William P. Barr, Attorney General of the United States, and Wilbur L. Ross, Jr., Secretary of Commerce, in contempt of Congress for refusal to comply with subpoenas duly issued by the Committee on Oversight and Reform.

    Obviously, they are in contempt. Congress has the power to compel testimony from hostile witnesses. You can’t defy subpoenas. End of story.
    Like (209)
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    I'm telling you, the democrats are a laughing stock. So busy trying to play 'gotcha' they are ignoring the people's business. We see it, we know the game, we will vote you out. #Trump2020
    Like (81)
    Follow
    Share
    Yes. They should be held in contempt and fined. Barr should be impeached and Ross should be removed from office. Barr, in particular, needs to be made an example of. He is not and should never be the Presidents personal attorney in these matters. I hope there is a way to find his actions to be outright criminal. He should never be able to just block a legal congressional inquiry. He is violating the Constitution in so doing and he definitely needs to be made an example of.
    Like (181)
    Follow
    Share
    The Attorney General is supposed to represent the People, not to protect the President. And law enforcement must have standards too.
    Like (131)
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    Why would they NOT be held in contempt? When did Republicans forget that the Legislature is a co-equal branch of government?
    Like (74)
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    No one is above the law!
    Like (64)
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    More nonsense from Congress to score political points. Would you PLEASE do your job like I do everyday!
    Like (60)
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    Allowing these people to ignore subpoenas would set a dangerous precedent. This should be a bipartisan issue.
    Like (58)
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    Of course. They broke the law. No one is above the law.
    Like (52)
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    Go ahead Democrats. Keep it up with your vicious agenda that benefits only the elitists inside the DC beltway and their wealthy donors. You care nothing for the people and in particular American citizens. No matter party affiliation, race, gender, religion, ethnicity, origin or any other label you want to attach to us. You are all about power grabs and the majority see it as clear as day. Please keep doing what you’re doing. You’re making our job to defeat you in 2020 even easier.
    Like (51)
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    Absolutely!!!!! Go further; Put them both in jail and let them meditate on their crimes!!
    Like (46)
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    As for the common people, so for the elected.
    Like (40)
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    Yes. The three branches are a check on each other. If they are allowed to ignore subpoenas then it gives the executive branch more power, something our founding fathers did not want.
    Like (35)
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    Absolutely they should be held in contempt. Barr being a lawyer should know better.
    Like (31)
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    If Barr, Ross, McGahn, and Kellyanne Conway, ignore or refuse to comply with a subpoena, as instructed by Trump, then they should be grabbed by the nape of the neck and seat of their pants and thrown in prison until they comply. Either we are a country of laws or we are not.
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    Throw them in jail with Trump!
    Like (29)
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    No. The Democrats continue their stupid political games with Trump that do nothing to serve the American people. It's the Democrats who are to be in contempt -- against the citizens of this country.
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    Isn’t that the way it is done!? If it was me refusing I would get 20 years!!!
    Like (27)
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    They should both be held to the highest standard. Subpoenas are not an option, or so I thought. They are defying the law, in my opinion, and should be penalized to the fullest extent of the law.
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    Anyone who ignores a Congressional subpoena should be held in contempt and punished accordingly. End of story. It doesn’t matter who they are.
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